As far as I’m concerned, DC9 is a no frills zone. The performance space rests a floor above what looks like a small version of Cheers, with a stage that is little more than a raised platform, maybe eight inches off the ground. Needless to say, there is no backstage, no VIP area, and no room for divas. The bands wiggle through the crowd to get to the stage, pass concert-goers in the stairwell to go out for a smoke, and always man their own dining booth converted into merch table. Indeed, I have seen incredible shows here with lights that are always on point, a couple disco balls, and (apparently) a projector they seldom utilize. In my experience, bands typically make their performances here a reflection of the DC9 vibe – they’re happy to be there, but don’t often treat it like a big, impressionable show; Alvvays was the exception.
At their 10:15 set time on the dot (thank the lord), the lights dimmed, Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome” faded out, and in faded ABBA’s “Arrival.” For those of you unfamiliar with the tune, it is what “Here Comes the Bride” is to a wedding. Orchestral and full of intention, it signaled the entrance of the fabulous Toronto pop band Alvvays. The crowd parted as the quintet headed to the stage, rocking the best normcore I’ve seen all year. As fangirls and boys alike went weak in the knees, Alvvays jumped right into the shimmery pop hits off their eponymous debut like “Adult Diversion” and “Ones Who Love You.”
A few songs in, front woman Molly Rankin let us know that this was actually their first show ever in Washington, DC – as the last time they were here coincided with the wretched Snowmageddon of 2010. They weren’t even expecting anyone to show up, so imagine their surprise when the show sold out almost a week in advance. A note on Rankin: despite being a magnificent, full-bodied and almost pop-opera like vocalist, she is an absolutely adorable human being. Seriously, her speaking voice is what I imagine this field mouse sounding like, in the very best way possible. As her voice suggests, she’s pretty tiny, which made the real-time projector on the wall of the bar all the more helpful, albeit slightly creepy.
With a sense of longing and melancholy, Alvvays played through a majority of their debut album and I practically fell in love with it all over again. After a blissful 45-minute set, the end had come and Rankin announced that they would play a brand new song, with the caveat that we help her crowd surf to the merch table afterwards. To much dismay, she wound up walking over herself; however they also went on to play a two-song encore, so I guess we all won in the end. Overall, this show was an absolute treat and I 100% recommend seeking them out in the future. Long live Alvvays.